Searching for Saviors: Can Retailers Truly Find The Perfect Chief Exec?

NEW YORK — Allen Questrom’s charisma, Millard Drexler’s merchandising skills, Leslie Wexner’s thoughtfulness and Rose Marie...

For Alan Lacy at Sears, Paul Pressler at Gap, J. Patrick Spainhour at Ann Taylor, and Julian Day at Kmart, the verdict is still out. They don’t make the WWD All-Star team of retail ceo’s, a list compiled with the assistance of executive search professionals and consultants. It’s a subjective collection, based on having at least a few outstanding abilities and a demonstrated track record of solid performance, with some retired executives getting honorable mention. (Apologies in advance to those who didn’t make the cut. Maybe next time.)

On the current starting lineup:

Allen Questrom, J.C. Penney: The Mr. Fixit of the industry, he’s considered charismatic, draws smart people to his ranks and empowers them. He’s reenergized Penney’s with a long-term strategy with realistic expectations for a turnaround. Previously, he rebuilt Federated Department Stores from the ashes of bankruptcy with megamergers, then had a short stint at Barneys New York, which he helped stabilize after its bankruptcy.

Mickey Drexler, J. Crew: A hands-on, visionary merchant, with a pulse on the consumer and a creative passion. He made Gap into the uniform of America and built it into one of the world’s best-known brands, but operationally fell short by opening too many stores and building up other brands that cannibalized each other. Gap’s two-year decline in profits was one reason he had to step aside.

Michael Jeffries, Abercrombie & Fitch: He reinvented A&F, after years of lacking identity, by methodically pursuing hard-to-hold customers — teens and those in their 20s. The business is his vision.

Gordon Segal, Crate & Barrel: A master of product and presentation and a classic merchant, he created a store environment that draws people in and a chain with consistent quality merchandising and assortments from door-to-door.

Leslie Wexner, Limited Brands: One of the industry’s few deep thinkers, he’s been a pioneer in creating specialty brands, some from scratch and others built out of minute businesses, with a vision and focus for each. He also gets credited for some shrewd financial maneuvers, notably business spinoffs, stock maneuvers and restructurings, and has kept Limited on solid financial footing, even when the apparel segment tanked.
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